1) This is the fifth column of a series that might make Merritt Paulson angry, but will more likely make him howl with laughter. In this series, I tell you what I’d do if, one, I owned the Timbers/Thorns, and two, I was absurdly rich. Not Jeff Bezos-rich, but richer than Merritt Paulson. Rich enough that the team wasn’t my main source of income, but was more of a hobby. Rich enough that I didn’t need the team to make a profit, I just needed them to break even.
First week, we talked about TriMet. Second week, we talked about food. Third week, we talked about drinks. Fourth week, we talked about open practices. This week, we’ll talk about youth soccer.
2) This week’s idea. When the good people of Portland finally rise up and demand that I be named team owner, (when’s that happening, btw? I’m getting a little impatient over here) I’m going to start a bunch of free-to-play youth soccer teams all around Portland.
3) The details. I think we’d have something like 10-12 clubs around town, all of them free-to-play and all of them in low-income neighborhoods. We’d provide coaches, uniforms, balls, and maybe even some groundskeeping help so their playing fields – which would be at local parks, I imagine – would be halfway decent.
I figure 10-12 clubs gives us enough teams to form a league. Let’s say 10 teams. Those teams would practice in their local park every day after school, then on Friday, travel across town to play one of the other teams. At the end of the season, you’re damn right I’m letting them play the championship games at Providence Park.
In the winter, I suppose we’ll go indoors and play futsal. Soccer from April to October, then futsal from November to March seems reasonable. I’m not sure where we’d play the futsal championship games. Would the Moda Center let us in? If not, Portland State’s got a sweet new gym. Maybe we could do ‘em there.
Anyway, where exactly would these 10-12 clubs be? Wherever the poor kids are. And the immigrant kids.
Some possible clubs I’m literally making up right this second: the Gresham Gladiators, the St Johns Saints, the Oregon City Pioneers, the Beaverton Bulls, Milwaukie City, Fort Vancouver FC, Atletico Albina, the Lents Leopards, the 82nd Airborne, the Tigard Tigers. There you go, 10 clubs I seriously just made up. (Don’t like my choices of neighborhoods? Throw me some other possibilities down in comments. Bonus points if you come up with cool names. Quadruple bonus points if you make a team crest.)
For every one of these clubs, there’s a boys team and a girls team. And we’d probably do it by age, as well. U10 boys and girls. U12 boys and girls. U14 boys and girls. Something like that.
Like I said, 10 teams would probably be enough for a league, but if other teams – private teams, non-PTFC-sponsored teams – wanted to join, awesome. I’m sure our clubs would enjoy whooping up on the rich kids.
4) The positives. Organized after-school athletics are so damn good for kids. Starting this league would make Portland a better place.
But this isn’t entirely philanthropic. This would benefit the Timbers and Thorns as well. Because, while most of the kids are just going to be average everyday kids, a few of them are gonna turn out to be special. We’ll spot them and nurture them and, at some point, maybe move them over to the Academy. And from there? Maybe they’ll join the senior team.
Have you noticed how many homegrown players suit up for FC Dallas? A fuck ton. And have you seen how many of them have signed big, giant, multi-million dollar contracts in Europe? A metric fuck ton. Hell, there’s been three or four just in the last few months.
This webpage lists MLS academy products currently playing in Europe. FC Dallas has nine. The Red Bulls have six. The Timbers have zero. And yes, I totally understand that the Dallas and New York metropolitan areas are huge, while Portland isn’t, but that just means we need to get creative. Maybe starting team-sponsored, free-to-play youth teams all over town well let us catch up with FC Dallas and the Red Bulls, at least a little bit.
But you know what? Even if it doesn’t, we’d still be doing a really good thing for a whole lot of kids in poor neighborhoods. That alone might justify the whole thing.
5) The potential negatives. As usual, cost.
Up in the details section, I imagined 10 clubs, each of them with six teams. If each team has 20 or 30 kids, that’s 120-150 kids for each club. Multiply that by 10 clubs and suddenly I’m buying uniforms for 1,200 to 1,500 kids. Yeah, sure, their uniforms won’t be anything special. Just a t-shirt, probably – club crest on the front, a number on the back – but still, that’s a lot of t-shirts. And if they’ve got home and away unis, double it.
Plus, there’s everything the coaches need. Balls. Ball bags. Cones. Maybe practice pinnies.
And probably the biggest expense is paying the coaches. I have no idea what youth coaches get paid, but I’m sure they ain’t doing it for free. And not only will I be paying them a salary, I’m also gonna want them to get their USSF coaching licenses. I’ll pay for that, obviously, and I doubt it’s cheap.
So, yeah. As usual, the big negative is cost.
But like I said in the “positives” section, I bet some of these kids are gonna end up in the Academy, and from there, onto the Timbers and Thorns. Maybe this is money well spent.
6) In the real world, where Merritt Paulson still owns the team, could this actually happen? Probably not. There’s a lot of cost and a lot of complexity. Yes, it might pay off in the end, but I’m just not sure the team’s willing to take on a big, complex, pricey thing like this.
But Merritt’s responded on Twitter to a few of these columns, so maybe he’ll do that again today and we’ll find out that the team’s already doing something cool with youth soccer. That would be awesome.
What do you think? Bad idea? Good idea, but slightly flawed? What flaws do you spot? Gimme some ideas to fix them. Let’s see if we can make this happen – in our imaginary world, at least.